Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Saffron Cake

Local food blogger 'Another Outspoken Female' is running a winter solstice cake event, and if I type really fast I'll be within a cats whisker of being in time to enter. The intention is to bake a Christmas style cake to celebrate the passing of the longest night in winter.

In fact we celebrated the winter solstice this year, as we usually do, with a small Christmas pudding (I make two every year, a big one for the family Christmas, and a small one for solstice). Solstice falling on a Friday this year - one of the days I work outside of the home - there is no possibility of any fancy cooking.

However on Sunday I had a chance to make something I've been keen to try for a while. I've always loved the variations of sweet breads made at Christmas time such as the Italian Panetonne and the German Stollen. Of course traditionally they are very 'rich' breads, which of course means eggs and nuts. Saffron cake is not as far as I know associated with any time of year, and yes it is strictly speaking a bread being leavened with yeast. Reading in Elizabeth David's "English Bread and Yeast Cookery" it is interesting to see that use of chemical leavening (baking powder and so on) in cakes is a recent innovation, and that earlier cakes were in fact leavened with yeast. So I'd like to push the understanding of cake to include this lovely recipe.

Just a word of warning, mine cooked much quicker than I expected - so hover around your oven - don't go outside and garden like I did - it's not supposed to be quite so brown :( . The recipe is modified from Dan Lepard's "The Handmade Loaf", a cook book I'd heartily recommend if you like cooking with yeast - great recipes and incredibly clearly written instructions.

Solstice Cake 2008 - Saffron Cake

100g lukewarm milk
1/4 tsp dried yeast
100g plain flour

Beat together all ingredients until smooth. Leave covered for 1 hour at which point the mix should have risen and be bubbly.

1 tsp saffron
3/4 tbs boiling water
250g strong white flour
25g castor sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
30g unsalted butter, softened
150ml lukewarm milk
a handful of currants
1 tbs sherry

Mix the saffron and the boiling water and leave for at least 10 minutes. Mix sherry with currants and leave at least 1 hour.

Combine flour, salt, spices and sugar in a large bowl and rub in butter. Mix saffron into milk, then pour this into the flour along with the sponge prepared earlier and the currants. Mix until well combined. Allow to rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

Lightly oil working surface before kneading dough for 10 seconds, then rest covered for another 10 minutes (the oil stops the dough from sticking). Knead again and leave for 1 hour, covered, in a warm place (I use a hot water bottle covered with a towel).

Shape dough (but don't try anything too fancy - it is a fairly wet dough and my plait completely disappeared). Allow to rise, covered for an hour in a warm place.

Bake at 210 degrees C for 30 minutes, then reduce to 190 degrees for another 15 minutes.

2 tbs sugar
1 tbs water

Simmer together in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Brush onto warm cake with pastry brush.

Leave to cool before enjoying.